“No justice, no peace!”

njnpNo justice, no peace.

The first time I heard those words, I was disturbed.

Was it a call for armed revolution? Was it an invitation to overthrow the current order?

As it turns out, it is neither.

It is a call to treat all human beings with respect.

As it is, people in this country live without hope of things ever getting better. Unless you have experienced hopelessness, you can not understand what it can do to a person.

Let’s say you live in a poor neighborhood where there are few, if any jobs. You’re told if you stay in school things will get better, but you stay in school and you’re still treated as though your life doesn’t matter.

People with authority and power treat you as though you’re worthless. They can stop and frisk you for no reason and shoot to kill if you don’t comply.

It’s completely arbitrary. You can walk through the neighborhood one day and get stopped and humiliated the next.

When you walk into a store, people assume you’re there to steal and you get followed as you browse.

These indignities add up, one by one, day after day.

Michael Brown stayed in school and was about to start college, but that didn’t give him immunity from being shot six times by a white police officer.

The prosecutor said the police officer saw that Michael Brown matched the description that had been sent out as someone who had robbed a convenience store.

First of all, it has been established already that the officer did not have the description, and that, although there was an altercation at the store, the film appears to show Michael Brown putting money on the counter.

Second, if Michael Brown did steal cigars, that should not mean he gets the death penalty.

This is what I mean about living without hope that things will ever get better.

This child’s body lay on the street for four and a half hours. Is it any wonder that residents of Ferguson believe the police were fixing “evidence” while he lay there?

How can anyone be at peace when they live with the disrespect these human beings face every day?

Meanwhile, the people with power have to protect what they have. They have to make it appear that Michael Brown deserved to die and that the officer was completely justified in using deadly force.

How can they have any sense of peace when they’re living in fear of an uprising because of the injustices they perpetrate?

When I say, “No justice, no peace,” I mean that we can’t have peace on either side as long as part of the population lives with intimidation and fear, underpaid, disrespected and with no hope of anything changing.

Had Darryl Wilson been indicted and a trial held, even if he was exonerated, at least there would have been an open debate about what happened. We might not have been happy with the results, but there would have been at least a modicum of respect for Michael Brown and his family.

Instead, he will walk away, his actions condoned. That sends a powerful message to people whose lives are affected every day by indignities and disrespect. When you remove hope from someone’s life, they have nothing to lose by lashing out in anger. Their neighborhood feels like a prison, so what do what have to lose by rioting and lighting fires?

We can’t live in peace if a minority of the population spends all its time trying to protect itself and its power and wealth by denying the rights of others to live a decent life.

Things won’t get better until we truly understand the meaning of “No justice, no peace” as a call to respect others and not as a call to rebellion and violence.

The world is watching

Michael Brown's body remained in the street for several hours after he was shot and killed in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 8.

Michael Brown’s body remained in the street for several hours after he was shot and killed in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 8.

I heard a man say today that he was visiting in-laws in South Korea and they wanted to know what the hell is going on in this country. Why would police shoot an unarmed young man and then leave his body in the street for hours?

Back before the Civil Rights Movement, young black men were lynched and left to sway from the branch of a tree for hours as spectators had their photos taken with the “strange fruit,” as Billie Holiday sang.

Again and again, police who are armed to the teeth, or lone vigilantes, kill unarmed black men and get away with it. These men are shot, choked, beaten, and most have committed no crime, or certainly not a crime that warrants the death penalty.

Yesterday was the 59th anniversary of the lynching in Money, Miss., of 14-year-old Emmett Till, whose mother, Mamie, insisted he have a public funeral, and that the casket be left open so the world could see the mutilated body of her child, savagely beaten and murdered because someone said he whistled at a white woman.

African-Americans still live in fear, a fear few of us white people can understand.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Evelyn Paul, a middle-aged white woman, was driving with a young black man in her car.

“I didn’t have the cruise control on because we were in town, and I was going over the speed limit,” she told me. “When the officer stopped me, I leaned over to get my registration from the glove compartment.”

Her passenger panicked.

“Sit up and put both hands on the wheel!” he said. “Don’t reach for anything until they tell you to!”

She had never considered that reaching into the glove compartment would be a threatening gesture.

“I’m a 50-year-old white woman,” she said. “I’ve never been considered a threat — except for when I was in the General Assembly Building and was arrested.”

I never had to teach my sons to not reach for anything until asked. I never had to teach my sons to keep their hands visible all the time when encountering a police officer. Hell, I was able to teach my sons that police officers were the people¬†you seek when you’re in trouble.

White privilege is something most of us don’t even see in our lives; we’re oblivious to the slights people of color endure every day.

But the rest of the world is not. They see what happens to young black males. They know we imprison black people at a rate unseen anywhere — even in apartheid South Africa.

We have a school-to-prison pipeline that most whites aren’t even aware of. Kids in poor, primarily black neighborhoods can be sucked into the justice system just for missing school, and once there, they can struggle for years to get out. By then, they have a criminal record, so when they’re discriminated against in the job market, in housing, at the voting booth, the excuse is that they’re criminals.

Michael Brown had made it through high school without being entangled in the “justice” system; he was to have started college in two days when he was gunned down in the street by a police officer who is still being paid while the incident is being investigated.

As a mother who has lost a child, I know some of what these kids’ mothers feel. My son’s death was unjust. It never should have happened. But I imagine it’s worse to have your child gunned down or strung up. I don’t know how these mothers stay on their feet. My heart breaks for them.

I propose we all start¬†calling these deaths what they are. Let’s be honest, they are lynchings.

 

 

 

 

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